How can we fix all that has gone wrong in our nation’s capital? Mandate military service for all Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18. At least that’s the provocative solution Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank proposed this weekend:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
[. . .]
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
Some pundits have called Milbank’s column the “worst argument in favor of the draft ever.” While I agree it’s bad, I’ve heard worse (see: any draft-related argument made by Rep. Charlie Rangel). All arguments for the draft ultimately fail, though, because they are inconsistent with a free society. They also overlook the way that markets in a free society allow us to serve and protect our country.
Chad W. Seagren, who earned a PhD in economics from George Mason University and holds the rank of Major in the Marine Corps, explains why participation in the division of labor serves society:
The market so readily provides us with products we desire that we often overlook the crucial role that service plays in our lives. The fact that the shelves of your local grocery store are consistently stocked with milk surprises no one. But the process that brings milk from the dairy to your local retailer is incredibly complex and requires the cooperation of millions of individuals.
This process not only succeeds in bringing milk and myriad other products to the masses, but also, in the last 300 years, has raised the standard of living to heights that were unimaginable only a few generations ago. In industrialized countries, it has eliminated abject poverty and starvation. It has greatly increased the availability and quality of medical care, vastly extending life spans. Don Boudreaux, an economics professor at George Mason University, regularly points out2 the seemingly mundane, but ultimately remarkable, ways in which the capitalist market has improved the environment for humans. The free market is responsible for the wide availability of housing structures to protect people from the elements; climate control such as heating and air conditioning; indoor plumbing; personal hygiene items such as soap and shampoo; and appliances that allow for the safe and clean storage of food, to name just a few. And contrary to popular belief, the market actually enables people to care for the environment, a luxury that becomes attainable only when societies become sufficiently wealthy.
The market is so integral to our relationships with other individuals in society and so effectively provides both necessities and luxuries that it is easy to overlook the extent to which people depend on it. Similarly, few realize the contributions that millions of people make every day to this essential social institution.
Read the rest. I’ll confess that I’m biased toward this position. I am adamantly opposed to “national service” programs and even more vehemently against forced conscription into military service. If our country ever gets to the point where we don’t have enough able bodied men and women who are willing to voluntarily serve in the armed forces then we will have reached a time when we no longer deserve to exist as a nation.